Monday, April 26, 2010

The Stork Club Ashtray and How I Blew My Big Chance with Kitty Carlisle

For someone who can’t stay awake past nine p.m., and who prefers pajamas above all other possible forms of dress, it’s odd that I have such a fascination with nightclubs. I don’t mean modern discos, but those black-and-white, swanky spots from the 1940s that that feature floor shows and cigarette girls and women wearing hats.

I don’t just love to see them in movies, or to find pictures of famous people at the Stork Club or El Morocco. I want to BE in them, somehow, no matter how tight my high heels would be, or hard I might find it to sip a perfect Manhattan while wearing a hat with a veil. For a real black-and-white supper club, I’d tough it out.

I recently ran across a picture of George S. Kaufman, Kitty Carlisle and Moss Hart, dining at the Stork Club. Golly. There is so much to love in this picture, and so much to imagine. Most of all, there are important questions to ask. Is the banquette red or black? Is Kaufman really interested in talking to them, or did he just want to turn his good side to the photographer? Is that an appliqué on Kitty’s dress, or part of the centerpiece? Is that a heart-shaped brooch or part of the dress, and is there an arrow sticking through it? Is that a corsage on the table, and did Moss buy it for her? What is she eating? Looks like a cutlet and mashed potatoes to me, but she seems to be a picky eater. Is she wearing a snood? And check out Moss over there on her left. A pinky ring? Really? Good job on the hanky puffing in the breast pocket, though. Finally, the most important part of the picture – the ashtray. If I could reach through the photo and take one item, it would be that ashtray -- the one with "ORK CLUB" just visible, tempting me.  If I could have that ashtray now, I’d even start smoking in its honor.

A few years ago, I was visiting friends in NewYork and my pal Virginia arranged for us to go to a pre-party for a Gay Men’s Chorus concert. I trailed along beside the always-outgoing Verge and had a nice, long neck-bending chat with Tommy Tune. And then I ended up standing next to Kitty Carlisle, who was about 200 years old at the time. This was long before I had read Act One or seen the Stork Club photograph, so I chatted with her about when she played at the Muny Opera in St. Louis, my hometown, and other inane topics. Now she’s dead and it's too late.  I’m kicking myself for not asking 1) would she sell me the rights to turn Act One into a musical? and 2) did she have any purloined Stork Club ashtrays sitting around, and would she give one to me?

No ashtray, no musical, but at least I've got the photo.  Thanks anyway, Kitty.

1 comment:

  1. Not to brag, but I happen to have one of those ashtrays that I picked in a junk store in Boston. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to get it.